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The legacy of Steve Nash

A personal shrine to Canada’s greatest basketball player./Matt Wincherauk
A personal shrine to Canada’s greatest basketball player./Matt Wincherauk

It might be the end for one of Canada’s great athletes

Author: peter steele – contributor

Sad news emerged in the NBA on Oct. 23, as the Los Angeles Lakers announced that veteran point guard Steve Nash will miss all of 2014-15 due to persistent nerve damage in his back. Nagging back ailments and a left leg fracture sidelined Nash for most of last season with Los Angeles, and now many wonder if this is the end for the journeyman guard, currently in the last year of his contract with the Lakers. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Nash has been an international pioneer for basketball, and continues to inspire budding Canadian basketball talents. His mark on the game will have ultimately shaped successive Canadian athletic culture.

            Now 40, Nash is the oldest player currently under contract in the NBA, owed $9 million through 2014-15. His best years are now behind him, however, and many Lakers fans feel the team was cheated on the price of the consistently hobbled future Hall of Famer. Nash never won an NBA championship, made it to the NBA Finals, or won an Olympic medal, but his individual performance ultimately registered legendary career accolades, and influenced the subsequent evolution of Canadian basketball and offensive play in the NBA.

            The Phoenix Suns selected Steve Nash fifteenth overall from Santa Clara University in the 1996 NBA draft. He originally spent two seasons with Phoenix, eventually being traded to the Dallas Mavericks in 1998. Nash returned to Phoenix in 2004, winning consecutive NBA regular season Most Valuable Player awards (2004-05, 05-06), before being sent to the Los Angeles Lakers in a sign-and-trade deal in 2012 – an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to form a super-team with Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, and Kobe Bryant. Nash will go down in history as a two-time NBA regular season MVP, eight-time NBA all-star, eight-time NBA player of the week, three-time NBA player of the month, three-time All-NBA first team member, two-time All-NBA second team member, and two-time All-NBA third team member. His individual Hall of Fame caliber accomplishments demonstrate the degree to which Nash left it all on the court.

            Steve Nash averaged double-digits in assists and points through his MVP campaigns, consistently leading the league in assists, and often drawing comparison to legendary NBA playmaker point guards like John Stockton and Magic Johnson. Before he reached his peak, NBA team offenses generally employed a much slower, plodding style of play than they do today. Many teams ran their offenses through their center, the “big man” in the low post, such as Shaquille O’Neil or Tim Duncan. But that all began to change after 2004-05, when Nash utilized a fast-break style, otherwise known as the “7 Seconds or Less” offence found in Jack McCallum’s book about the Suns 2005-06 season, that gave the Suns a uniquely elite NBA offense, and earned him the regular season MVP award.

            Today, the NBA is a point guard-driven league, behind stars like Chris Paul and Stephen Curry. Most teams now have an elite-level point guard that can run the offense, utilize floor spacing to find open shooters, and create scoring opportunities for themselves off of the dribble. The NBA has become more offensively impromptu, creative, and diverse. Point guards now have the skill and ability, as their teams’ pseudo quarterbacks, to take what defenses give them, rather than forcing plays in the post—ultimately making for more entertaining games.

            Thanks to Nash’s offensive influence, the old method of boring, low post style offense has gone the way of the dinosaur. Lineups are smaller, players are faster and more skilled, and teams look to push the offense up the court to score as quickly as possible. The ‘Small Ball’ NBA offensive philosophy owes a lot to Nash’s influence and practical example.

            Steve Nash will be remembered for his fast-paced offensive style, red-hot shooting touch, unmatched free throw record, dazzling passing skill, and creative playmaking ability. He ranks ninth all-time in NBA three-point success percentage (.4278), third in assists (10,335), and has the highest free throw success percentage in NBA history (.9043). He is one of only six members of the historical “50-40-90 club” – including Larry Bird, Mark Price, and Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, and Kevin Durant – NBA players having registered a field goal percentage of at least .500, three-point percent of at least .400, and free throw percentage of at least .900, all in a single season. Nash has accomplished the 50-40-90 shooting feat in four separate seasons, more than any player in NBA history, and almost repeated a fifth, finishing with a .899 free throw percent in 2006-07. He was also the primary ball handler for his teams, and many of his shots came off of the dribble, rather than set up off a pass. The added degree of difficulty in his ability to gather the ball, while on the run, from a dribbling motion into an effective shooting motion efficiently, while being tightly guarded, makes Nash arguably the greatest overall shooter in NBA history. While he is known for setting teammates up to score, he did the same for himself off of the dribble. Choosing whether to defend the pass or the shot against Nash has been a matter of picking one’s poison with equal results.

            Canadian basketball would also not be what it is without Steve Nash. He represented Canada in international competition from 1993-2004, leading the team to the quarterfinals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and to a fourth-place finish in the 2004 FIBA Americas qualifiers, where he won tournament MVP. Nash took on a role as General Manager of the Canadian men’s national basketball program in 2012, and with emergent Canadian NBA talents like Andrew Wiggins, he will look to assemble an internationally competitive team. Nash’s NBA journey set a precedent for Canadian basketball, and inspired players to conquer staggering demographic odds, contributing to the growth of basketball nationally and internationally. Considering his achievements, influential legacy, the statistical odds of developing Canadian NBA talent amidst numerous American prospects, and the prevalence of historically similar Canadian hockey legends, Steve Nash may be the greatest – and most unlikely – Canadian athlete ever.

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